Rockabilly retrorocket Colin Winski has spent most of his life in a love-hate relationship with the ghost of Elvis. Blessed - or cursed - with a physical resemblance striking enough to trigger an Elvis sighting, Winski has spent 15 years alternately promoting and defending himself against comparisons to the King. Looking like Elvis has allowed Winski to indulge his need to perform. At the slightest provocation, Winski will spontaneously burst into a corny but convincing replica of the hip-swiveling, knee-dipping, hands-over-the-head frenzy that convinced parents that Presley was demonic.
"When I tell people my husband's a rockabilly performer, they always come back with, 'he's an Elvis impersonator. He's a charter member of what he calls "the secret fraternity of rockabilly." Make no mistake, Winski's much more than an Elvis impersonator. He's a charter member of what he calls "the secret fraternity of rockabilly."
Even in today's grunge, hip-hop, acid-jazz music world, rockabilly renegades like Winski are a breed unto themselves. They're rockers whose bodies live in the present but whose heads and hearts are still hanging around Sun Studios in Memphis in 1956, listening to a truck driver change popular music forever.
Rockabilly cats wear vintage clothes, eat in diners and hunt down long-lost 45s by long-forgotten performers. You can recognize rockabilly devotees by their anti-grunge wardrobe. Shades and black-leather motorcycle jackets are required. Instead of Doc Martens, they wear pointy-toed hepcat scoots. And the height and curvaceousness of the pompadour - rockabilly's most recognizable symbol - determines the music's social pecking order. The higher the 'do, the more you're respected. Most of all, rockabilly wigglers like Winski are zealous keepers of rock 'n' roll's original flame; its raw and rebellious form, when the edges of its ingredients - gospel, country and blues - were still audible to the naked ear."Rockabilly came out of pain and blues and country, and it was real," Winski says with a rabid look in his eye. "I hate the term 'oldies.' To me, it's vital. It's sexual. It's really alive. I feel it."
Winski is to feeling dem old cosmic rockabilly blues again. A recording artist at age 16, an opener for the Clash and Tom Petty at 22, and finally a fugitive from the mid Eighties rockabilly revival that made household names of Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats, Winski has been out of music since moving to the Valley eight years ago. That is, until now. In 1993, England's Fury Records (no relation to the Harlem-based R&B label) released Helldorado, Winski's first album in more than a decade. Backed by a band of some of the Valley's best roots-blues musicians, including drummer Brian Fahey (the Paladins, Rocket 88s), standup bassist Bruce Hamblin (Cowbillys) and guitarist Pat Moore, Winski yelps, hiccups and stutters his way through a straight-ahead rockabilly set that includes five Winski originals as well as rockabilly set that includes five Winski originals as well as rockabilly standards like "Rockin' My Life Away" and the ever-moody "Sleepwalk." Several megawatts less frantic than Winski's 1980 classic solo album, Rock Therapy, this disc still shows that Winski hasn't lost his fire.
Now that he has the 1993 album to support, Winski returns to his first love: performing. During his heyday, he was known to steal the show with his hipswiveling, Elvisian antics. This week a reenergized Winski will let it fly at a CD-release party at the Rhythm Room. Winski was first bitten by the rockabilly bug at the unlikeliest of locations: grandma's house. "I was there at my grandmother's house and there was a film festival on," he begins. "They showed "Lovin' You" [Elvis' second movie, best known for the song "(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear"] twice a day; that's whenI became one of the Elvis people. I've seen that movie over 200 times now, at least. Sometimes it just breaks my heart." Fascinated by Elvis, Winski, like millions of other fledgling greasers, decided that if Elvis could do it, so could he.
"I learned a lot of my performance stuff in bedrooms. By myself. Gee, that sounds nice, doesn't it? No, I mean, I'd be in my room with records on, dancing, moving. Working up a show in my head. I was always thinking about the performance."
Born in Hollywood, Winski was raised in California's answer to the Twilight Zone - Venice - but graduated from Chatsworth High School, located deep in the suburban wilds of the San Fernando Valley. Winski's infatuation with Elvis led him to other rockabilly artists like Gene Vincent and Roy Orbison. He also began listening to hillbilly country singers like Lefty Frizzell and what he calls "swinging, tough rockin' gospel."
In 1970, when he was 13, Winski met a rockabilly fanatic named Ronnie Weiser at an Elvis concert. Weiser became Winski's mentor, turning him on to new records, introducing him to collectors and stars alike and eventually recording Winski's first records. Out of his house in Van Nuys, Weiser ran a rockabilly magazine called Rollin' Rock. He spewed slander at rockers who didn't wear Levis or Lee Riders ("because they weren't rock 'n' roll jeans") and made up names like "Crosby, Shit and Trash" and "Rod Screwart" for those who betrayed the true spirit of rock 'n' roll. Weiser, a jew, also covered his magazine in Stars of David and wrote militantly pro Israel editorials. For the wide-eyed Winski it was a crash course in trash 'n' twang.
"Freaks started coming out of the woodwork," Winski says. "A scene started to develop. Record collectors started coming around. Most of them geeks. Flat-out geeks. But we all talked the secret lingo of rockabilly," Winski says, cupping his hand over his mouth. "We were the secret fraternity of rockabilly."
One Fifties idol that both Weiser and Winski respected was Texan Ray Campi. At this time, standup bassist Campi had been out of music for years, and copies of his long-out-of-print singles like "Caterpillar" and "Scrumptious Baby" were selling for as much as $250. Weiser and Winski were startled by the chance discovery that Campi was teaching school in L.A. and lived two blocks from Weiser. The duc promptly paid him a visit, and their enthusiasm rekindled Campi's interest in music and he agreed to record a single for Weiser's new label, Rollin' Rock Records.
The recording session in Weiser's living room went so well that Campi decided to form a band called the Rockabilly Rebels. The 15-year-old Winski became one of the band's two hip-shakin' guitar players. The other was Billy Zoom, who later found fame in the band X. It was this band that backed Winski on his first record. Again cut in Weiser's living room to give it the raw, authentic feel they all felt was necessary for "real" rockabilly Winski's debut was an EP whose lead track was an old tune called "Squeaky Shoes.' To get the squeaking noise that forms the song's distinctive background, Weiser rubbed the arms of Gene Vincent's leather jacket, which he left to his greatest fan, Ronnie Weiser, when he died.
The Rockabilly Rebels received their baptism of fire in Austin, Texas. Living in a house owned by Campi's father, the band stayed in Austin long enough to play the Fillmore West of Texas musical history, the Armadillo World Headquarters, and to film a segment of PBS' Austin City Limits. The band also found time to do a cameo (as musicians) in a rockabilly porno film, Teenage Cruisers. Winski cut two albums with Campi, Born to Rock in 1977 and Wildcat Shakeout in 1979. The second album was on Radar Records, a spin-off of Elvis Costello's Stiff Records. By that time, however, egos had begun to tear the band apart. When Campi nixed an offer from Radar to allow Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe to produce the band's next album, Winski and the new guitarist, Jerry Sikorski, quit the band.
"Man, we thought, Nick Lowe producing! We can't lose," Winski says. "It was a stupid move to turn it down. Look what happened next. Along come the Stray Cats, Dave Edmunds snaps them up and bang! They're stars." Winski and Sikorski formed their own band, the Rebels, which quickly landed opening slots on a Tom Petty tour and for a series of Clash dates on the West Coast. The brief history of the Rebels is unremarkable except for one night in Vancouver, British Columbia. "The night after the Clash tour ended, our agency called and asked if we wanted to make some money 'cause Judas Priest needed an opening act. We were arrogant and stupid, so of course we said 'Yes,'" Winski says. "We came out dressed like hillbillies. People were booing. But there were a few friendly faces in the front who were boogieing and getting off on the fact that this was a bizarre opening act.
The Clash was in the wings watching. I didn't like the crowd's mean reactions, so at the end of our set, I was yelling, 'F--- you.' Mick Jones came out and put his arm around me and walked me offstage. It was kind of like, 'You'd better get off before they kill you." That year, Takoma Records called Winski and uttered the words he wanted to hear: solo album. When Sikorski didn't like the idea, he and Winski split. Winski then rounded up a group of studio musicians led by Ventures guitarist Jerry Magee and cut the high- water mark of his career, Rock Therapy. Prized by rockabilly collectors for its wild energy and classic, snarling cover art, the album sold well in Europe and Japan, but died a quick death here at home.
Rock Therapy was also undercut by the Stray Cats, who first appeared on the British charts in 1980. As buzz about the Cats built, Winski and other rockabilly players found more work. But it soon became apparent that no one except the cartoonish Stray Cats would realize any serious cash from this minirevival. At the same time, L.A.'s New Wave scene - with bands like X, the Blasters and Los Lobos - was gaining momentum. Although Winski tried to cash in by penning some X-ish songs, his heart wasn't in it. When the rockabilly craze was pronounced dead in the mid-Eighties, Winski felt lost."In Campi's band, someone always took care of the business, the bookings, took care of everything. I was thrust into a role of trying to do all that and I was totally unprepared. It got depressing. For me, L.A. became drugs, depression and self-hate. By '85 I couldn't even face going out to a gig. I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to do Rock Therapy anymore. I didn't want to get up there and be Mister Wiggle anymore. I felt like everybody in L.A. had seen what I do and I wasn't growing. So I escaped." that's when Colin and Nina Winski moved in with her parents in Phoenix.
"This marriage has survived some hard-ass times," Winski says of their 16-year-old union. Part of the reason it's endured is that like Colin, Nina is also a rockabilly persona. A collector of vintage clothes and memorabilia, Nina recently learned that she's contracted lupus. For the first couple of years in the Valley, Winski didn't play or even go out to hear music. His first job here was digging ditches. From there he moved up to become a security guard at the Biltmore, a job he held until two weeks ago. Although he spent much of his time at the historic hotel, "walking the halls and dreaming of past glories," he kept at it because it kept the rent man satisfied.
"Man, I remember what it was like in L.A. with no money. People banging on the door, 'So you're mister rockabilly. F--- you, where's the rent?'" But despite his rent-a-cop uniform and seemingly normal existence, Winski's rockabilly fires never flickered out. Slowly but surely, Winski began working his way back. First, he went to see a couple of local bands. After the set, he'd hang around the bandstand and try to talk to the players.
I had kind of an L.A. mentality, which means that within five minutes, you've already given someone all your credits. In the real world, that's considered pushy," Winski says. "Maybe I came on too strong. Or too desperate." Local players began letting him sit in, and slowly he won their confidence. That led to rehearsals, which in turn led to his new CD.
Winski's goals are simple. Play local gigs, sell out this CD and gain his performing confidence back. So far, he's enjoying his comeback. He doesn't even mind the frequent questions about Elvis. You can see he's glad someone is asking again. "Anybody that moves is considered an Elvis guy," Winski says with a wave of his hand. "What I learned from Elvis, though, was raw feeling. That's what I responded to. "Every performer is the sum of his influences. You take a little black here, a little red here, a little orange here, a little burnt sienna over here," Winski says, dabbing his finger on a mock paint palette, "mix'em up and, yeah, people will recognize those shades. But if you do it right, they'll also see that you have your own color."By Robert Baird
Look for Colin's upcoming CD
"ROCKIN' AT THE CALDERON"
recorded in 1997:
HELLDORADO - CD
Colin Winski and His Helldorado Band
$11 + $3 postage (US)... available direct from
810 Joan D'Arc Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Autographed upon request
Rollin Rock - "Rollin The Rock" (Vol. 1) Various Artists Song: "Hoy, Hoy, Hoy!"
Rollin Rock - "Born To Rock" (Ray Campi & Rockabilly Rebels), includes: "Born To Rock", "Whole Lotta Shakin", "Red Cadillac And A black Mustache.
Rollin Rock - "California Rockabilly" various artists song: "Alligator Come Across."
Radar - "Wildcat Shakeout" (Ray Campi & Rockabilly Rebels) includes: "Wildcat Shakeout", "Cat Clothes Shop", "Gone Gone Gone", "don't Blaime It On Me".
Takoma/Chrysalis - "Rock Therapy", includes: "Love Me", Bopalena", "Rock Therapy", "Tennessee Rock 'N' Roll", "That's Right" and "Burning Desire" and others.
Fury - "Lordy Hoody", various artists songs: "Lordy Hoody" and "Cool Love".
Fury - Colin Winski solo C.D. January 1993. "Helldorado" (Fury Records).
Comin soon - "Rockin At The Calderon". (New C.D.)
45 RPM RELEASES
Rollin Rock - "Dig Those Squeaky Shoes", "Red Hot Mama" and "Honey Roll".
Radar - "Teenage Boogie", "Rockabilly Rebel".
"Teen-Age Crusiers" (X) (1978) Sex-Comedy-Musical.
"Blue Suede Shoes (1980) Documentary.
UPCOMING VIDEO RELEASE:
"Rockabilly Meeting In Essen Germany" (1992) Documentary.
Colin Winski And The Bearcats (Fury 1994).
Colin's Reviews:ROCKABILLY UPRISING!!
By Rockin' Ronny Weiser
September 19 will go down in the history of music as a memorable event for Los Angeles and the Palomino Club in particular. When it comes to music, Los Angeles is the squarest town in the world: mostly old balding washed-out hippies peddling Crosby, Shit & Trash albums, or eunuchoidal fruits in their David Bowie makeup! Then, there's also the country and western devotees who don't like anything but the sick computerized "Nashville Sound." It's this crowd that usually frequents the Palomino Club. "Usually" because September 19 was NOT a "usual" night for the old Palomino! Ray Campi, Colin Winski (the teenage rockabilly), and Jerry Sikorski (Rays guitarist) had jut got back from a great tour of Texas.
Ray had a guitarist, but no band. In only one week, he was supposed to assemble a perfect Rockabilly band for the spectacular debut in front of all the "hot shots" of Hollywood's music industry! As it turned out, Ray's band had it's sole rehearsal only two days before the show! On the other hand, Billy zoom's band (the other group on September 19), had been rehearsing conscientiously, except for the drummer, Chuck Huff, who came down from Frisco a few days before the show. Billy's band has Patrick Woodward on stand-up bass and Holly Hollunder on rhythm guitar. Billy himself plays guitar. The excitement for this show had been building up for several weeks. Billed as: "ROLLIN' ROCK PRESENTS ROCKABILLY UPRISING, with RAY CAMPI, JACKIE LEE COCHRAN, COLIN WINSKI, BILLY ZOOM'S BAND, and JOHNNY LEGEND, it seemed like a rockabilly fanatic's dream!
Billy Zoom opened the set with some extremely tight and impeccable rockers....songs like "Baby Let's Play House," "That'll Be The Day," "Summertime Blues," plus his own "Bad Boy." The musicians were all excellent - real professionals! Then, RAY CAMPI and his ROLLIN' ROCK-A-BILLIES (consisting of Colin Winski on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jerry Sikorski on vocals and lead guitar, Kevin Olson on another lead, and Steve Clark on drums) appeared. The Palomino was completely packed, and as soon as Ray started slappin' that bass, the crowd roared with approval! Ray's band did over 26 songs including: "Rock It," "Tore Up," "Hot Dog," "Hot Rocks," "Eager Beaver Baby," "King Creol," Rollin' The Rock," "Rockabilly Rebel," and more. The lack of rehearsal obviously made 'em sound a bit sloppy at times, and the fact that the standup bass could not be heard loud enough didn't help the drummer.
But, what they lacked in tightness, they made up in exuberant excitement! Ray, Colin and Jerry have a thing going that's hard to describe: It's just a perfect rapport in their own world of savage ROCKABILLY ECSTASY! Ray would jump on top of the bass, Colin spread his legs and pounded that guitar, and Jerry would just do a back-flip! The audience just went wild! Beserk! Jerry sang "Eager Beaver Baby," and no words can describe the sight! Picture a lobster-red-faced albino teenager with yellow-white hair, flashy embroidered cowboy shirt, coming on with the energy of Little Richard, and the arrogance of a bulldog! COLIN WINSKI, the teenage Elvis rockabilly sensation, lived up to expectations and more: A sexy soulful voice, augmented by outlandish gryations, hip-swiveling movements, just, just, just AAAAAAAUUUUUUHHHHHH! (How the hell can I describe with the words the miracle I have witnessed?)
COLIN WINSKI with BOB & THE BEARCATS
The Thunderbird Club, Wellingborough
November 10th 1994
Consider these images: Elvis Presley, the Memphis Flash, in 1956, Tommy Facenda of The Blue Caps in the 1958 film 'Hot Rod Gang' with Gene Vincent, and Ersel Hickey in the most famous rock 'n' roll pose of them all. Put them all together, and just a touch of eccentricity, and you have, from Phoenix, Arizona, the one and only Colin Winski. It's been 15 years now since Colin graced our shores when he was part of Ray Campi's Rockabilly Rebels. He almost stole the show then - could he still perform like that now? You bet he could - and he did! Bob & The Bearcats up with their usual polished set, including numbers from their new 'Hold On Tight' CD plus others such as Bob's version of Elvis' 'Shoppin' Around' and Darrell Higham's rendition of Eddie Cochran's 'Nervous Breakdown'. They were excellent and just the thing to warm up the Thunderbirders for Colin Winski.
Colin was accompanied on this trip by American guitarist Pat Moore from his Helldorado band. He's a superb picker and showed off his prowess by opening up the show for Colin with the instrumental "Wolfy Boogie'. It was difficult for me to put my camera down during Colin's act, he's such a visual performer. In fact, I can think of very few whom I've enjoyed photographing better. He moved like the ultimate rocker and, of course, I warm to that kind of behavior. In rock 'n' roll, dress and action are every bit as important as the music. In this case, however, you get great music too. With Pat Moore and Bob & The Bearcats featuring Darrell Higham backing him, Colin could ask for no greater band.
It was pure theatrics from start to finish as he tore into each number with a passion rarely seen anywhere in music today. Each song was given the full treatment of body and soul coaxing out the feeling of every lyric. He began with Commander Cody's 'Rockabilly Funeral', but this was no funeral - it was the re-birth of a host of rockabilly favourites from Ronnie Sell's frantic 'Bop-A'Lena' to Ernie Chaffin's impassioned 'I'm Lonesome'. He was so convincing on this latter smouldering number that I could see images of teenage girls shedding bucketfuls of tears over their rockabilly idol. I woke up at the end of the number and caught the Thunderbirders instead....Oh well, dream on....
Thomas Wayne's 'You're The One That Done It', Colin's own 'Bone Tired' and the classic Bob Luman / Warren Smith beat ballad 'Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache' were just tremendous. Wayne Williams' 'Red Hot Mama' and Andy Starr's 'Dig Them Squeaky Shoes', both of which Colin made his own via recordings on Rollin' Rock in the '70s, set the scene for another track from his Fury CD, 'Helldorado', the original 'King Of The Drapes'. This was pure magic and fun to boot with Pat Moore and The Bearcats vocalizing behind him on the punchline.
Pete DeBree's 'Hey Mr. Presley' - perfect Winski material - kept the dancers on the floor and led to the climax of the show, a wonderfully OTT rendition of Johnny Burnette's 'Rock Therapy'. Roars of approval brought him back for a raunchy version of Mack Vickery / Jerry Lee's 'Rockin' My Life Away'. And let's hope that's exactly what Colin Winski will be doing for some considerable time yet. Don't wait another 15 years before you come back, Colin, we need to see more of you.